Monday, March 10, 2014

My heart goes out to Peter Lanza...

This morning, there was an article on my Yahoo! feed about Peter Lanza, father of Adam Lanza, the 20 year old guy who shot up Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.  Mr. Lanza had long been living apart from his ex wife, Nancy, a gun enthusiast who died when her son shot her before his rampage at the elementary school.  For whatever reason, Peter Lanza and his ex wife separated in 2001, when Adam was in elementary school.  Though he had tried to stay in touch with the boy, and even stayed married to Nancy Lanza until 2009, he hadn't seen Adam in the two years prior to the tragedy.  Their relationship was very strained and Lanza says he's sure that had Adam had the opportunity, he would have killed his father too.  Adam Lanza fired four shots into his mother; Peter Lanza says he believes those shots were for him, his ex wife, Adam, and his brother, Ryan.

Peter Lanza granted an interview to The New Yorker; this is the first time he has spoken out since the shooting.  Lanza claims that he thinks about the shooting every hour of every day and wishes his son had never been born.  He also says he wishes he could trade places with the families and has actually talked to a couple of them in the wake of the tragedy.

I have a pretty morbid curiosity.  I knew there would be shitty comments about Peter Lanza on Yahoo! and I was right; there are.  A lot of people seem to blame him for the fact that his son was a mass murderer.  They blame him for the fact that his son killed twenty adorable kids and six teachers because somehow, Peter Lanza must have had the ability to predict and prevent this tragedy.

Adam Lanza clearly had some serious problems.  He was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome when he was a kid and apparently had trouble accepting the diagnosis.  While, according to Lanza, he had been a cheerful but "weird" kid, he had become more and more troubled as he grew up and there were probably many more issues affecting him than simple Asperger's Syndrome.  Mr. Lanza now says he wishes he had pushed harder to see his son…  would that have stopped him from going on a shooting spree?  Who knows?  But that's all in the past and what's happened, happened.  The guilt is still there, but there's nothing he can do about the past.

I see things differently than the folks who blame Peter Lanza, since my own husband was pushed out of his kids' lives.  I watched his influence over them completely disappear over the years since he and their mother split.  I saw it happening and urged my husband to try to do more.  But I watched him do what he could and realized it was pretty futile; they'd already made up their minds about him and determined what they thought was the truth, even if their version of the truth was missing a lot of facts.  I also know that even if he and ex hadn't split up, my husband's influence would have still diminished because that's what happens when kids become adults.

Peter Lanza has gotten support from many people, though he seems reluctant to trust some of the edible gifts people have sent, fearing that they may be poisoned.  He knows that many people blame him for his son's actions, even though legally Adam Lanza was an adult and had decided not to have anything to do with his father.  Yes, he was mentally ill, but he lived with his mother who, by many accounts, didn't seem to have the best grasp on reality herself.  He was in a house full of weapons.  Should Peter Lanza have objected to that?  Maybe.  Had the situation been reversed and Adam was living with his father in a house full of guns, his mother might have had cause to object.

From what I've seen, people often assume that when a kid has problems, it's the father's fault.  Many people think the mother is automatically the better parent and will give her more leeway, especially since she usually has custody of the kids… she has to do something egregiously crazy in order for people to speak up.  And then when someone does speak up, particularly after a tragedy occurs, people blame the father for not doing something sooner, not taking charge of the situation, or not being "there" for their kids.  But fathers who do try to do something sooner sometimes get painted as control freaks or stalkers, and people may assume they're harassing their children's mothers instead of just leaving them be.  Besides, it does appear that both Nancy and Peter Lanza did try to help their son.

From what I can discern, Peter Lanza is a normal, decent person.  He was married to a woman and it didn't work out-- and really, I don't see how it could have worked out, under the circumstances.  From what I've read, he tried to do right by his son, but when you are a non-custodial parent, particularly when the other parent is uncooperative (which Nancy Lanza apparently wasn't), it can be exceedingly difficult to stay involved.  As children get older and more independent, it becomes pretty much impossible.  I don't blame Peter Lanza for what his adult child decided to do.  I'm sure that if he'd had the ability to, he would have tried to do more to prevent this.  I'm sure if he had known how ill his son was, he would have tried harder to help him.  How much should we expect parents to do, though, when they have adult kids who won't see or talk to them?

The article in The New Yorker paints Peter Lanza's late ex-wife as a devoted mother.  She stayed home with her sons and tried to do what she could to make life more bearable for Adam, whose behaviors grew stranger as he grew older and life became more challenging.  Why she chose to keep firearms in her home when she had a son who had shown such violent tendencies is beyond me.  Even so, the shootings were really not her fault either, despite the fact that she had so many guns.  It was unwise to have them in her home, but she wasn't the one who did the killing.  The fact is, Adam was resistant to efforts to help him-- from his parents and professionals alike.  He was seen many times in a place where there are plenty of highly capable and well-trained mental health professionals.  But they couldn't stop this horrific event either.  

Sandy Hook was a terrible tragedy.  It's pretty clear that Adam Lanza had serious issues and his parents did try to get him help from a variety of professionals as he was growing up.  Their efforts, unfortunately, were not enough.  It seems to me the only thing that could have prevented what happened is if Adam Lanza were locked away somewhere.  And what parent wants that for their child?  What parent could foresee their child going on a shooting spree and then self-destructing the way Adam Lanza did?  If they could foresee such an event, what can we expect them to do?  If Peter Lanza had seen his son leaving his ex-wife's home loaded for bear with weapons, would it have been right for him to use deadly force to stop the young man?  If he had, he'd likely be in prison now, right?  But twenty-six people might still be alive.  In that case, Peter Lanza would probably be a hero, though few people would see him that way.  They'd be calling him a monster instead of his son.

When something like this happens, I always have some empathy for the families of the perpetrator.  People sympathize with the families of the victims, but the families of the perpetrators don't always get any regard.  How horrible the guilt must be to have a child who causes so much death and destruction to innocent people.  If you are a decent person, how do you go on, knowing that you helped create a monster?  It's got to be just wrenching.  Under these conditions, I don't blame Peter Lanza for wishing his son had never been born, though I bet a lot of people judge him for that statement, too.

Anyway, a lot of people may judge Peter Lanza for fathering a monster.  I, for one, just feel sad for him.  It's easy to say that he could have and should have "done better", but the reality is that there's only so much a person can do… there's only so much control a person has over another person.  I wish Peter Lanza and his wife peace as they struggle with the aftermath of this.


  1. I really feel for the man as well. Some people aren't wired correctly for reasons unbeknownst to anyone.He did Aspies and their parents everywhere a favor by saying he's sure that it mas more than just Asperger Syndrome behind his son's heinous act. I know several parents of Aspies whose kids have suffered since the shooting because people ignorantly assumed that since Adam Lanza had an Asperger diagnosis and committed an unspeakable act, their children with Asperger may do something similar.I was glad he went to the trouble of making the distinction.

    i felt his pain as he talked about how the sweet if odd little boy he raised he grew into something very different. What horror the man has endured in coming to the eventual conclusion that it would have been better for everyone had the child never been born.

    You're kinder to Adam's mother than i am. I do feel that she bears some responsibility both for having guns that Adam could ultimately access if he had sufficient time to pound away at the cabinet or do whatever it was that he did to break into the cabinet and for taking him to a shooting range and helping him learn to use the weapons. i understand that she paid the ultimate price with her life, but I don't think she was exercising common sense either by having guns in her home or by familiarizing Adam with the handling of them. I recognize that owning firearms is a fundamental right in this nation, but that doesn't make it a wise decision in every case. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and it's very easy for me to say after the fact that Mrs.Lanza should have known better, but still I think that she SHOULD have erred on the side of caution. And it wasn't even just a single weapon for her own protection that she owned. The number of weapons made him more difficult to stop.

    My parents now have a gun. They bought it my last year of high school right after the idiots used the high-powered sling shot to send the brick through my window. It's not that they thought they would go after and shoot anyone if who sent another brick through a window, but if someone broke in, they wanted a defense.They kept the gun in a safe in their bathroom in northern CA, and it's in a safe in the secure room in the present house. I didn't know they owned it until a couple of months ago. My mom said she thought about getting a gun years earlier because it's a crazy world, but she wouldn't have one as long as Matthew and I were still somewhat unknown quantities, as teenagers can be. It was only once we grew into stable young adults that she considered that the family might be safer with a gun than without one. Even now we know that, statistically speaking, we're NOT safer with the gun than without it. My parents say they'll always use the secure room first as long as they can. It's just if there's a situation where not everyone can make it into the secure room that the use of the gun would be considered. We have a really sophisticated alarm system as well. Doctors' homes have been targeted because people sometimes assume there are lots of drugs lying around. There are drugs here, but probably no more than in the average home. It would be convenient for my dad to set up a lab in the house, but for all of our safety he hasn't done that because the house would be more of a target if there were a lab here.

    Getting back to poor Peter Lanza, i can only imagine the hell with which he lives on a daily basis, and my heart goes out to him. Sometimes you do everything you can as a parent but your best just isn't good enough. We don't yet know everything there is to know about why some people turn out the way they do. Maybe we never will fully understand it.

    1. I agree that Nancy Lanza bears some blame for having the weapons in her house. I just hesitate to judge her too harshly now… I don't know what she was thinking and I agree that with a son like Adam, she should not have had weapons around. It's plain common sense. But then, I don't know what life was like with Adam around or why she had them. I only know what I've read.

      Bill has talked about buying a weapon. He's a soldier-- soon to be retiree. He likes firing guns. He has taken me to the range and, I have to admit, I enjoy shooting too. I'm not good at it, but it's fun to try. It's ridiculously easy to buy guns in Texas. If we stay here, he'll probably get one eventually, provided we aren't on welfare. Your parents sound like they're responsible about their weapon use. In Switzerland, every household has a gun, but that's because every citizen is expected to serve if Switzerland gets invaded.

      I feel for Peter Lanza and his wife. People are brutal in the comments on the articles I've read. Having been subjected-- to a much lesser extent, of course-- to judgment about Bill, I have an inkling of what he must be feeling. People can be vicious on the Internet, especially when "kids" are involved. Sadly, a lot of people think kids are kids until they turn 21 and even thereafter if they come from a "broken home". From what I've read, Peter Lanza tried. No, he wasn't "there", but he does not fit the definition of a deadbeat dad. His sons know/knew him. And now he and Ryan and his wife have to live with the terrible aftermath of what Adam did. It must be hell.

  2. I didn't know that about Switzerland.

  3. If you're interested in reading more about Swiss gun laws, check out this article.

    The Swiss love their firearms, but they don't have a problem with gun violence like we do here in the United States.


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